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What is Hypertension?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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When a patient has hypertension or high blood pressure, the force of blood against the artery walls is too strong. Hypertension is known as a silent killer because the symptoms do not appear until it is severely high. You may not be aware you have the condition, but it can be causing damage to your arteries, heart and kidneys. High blood pressure can lead to atherosclerosis and stroke.

The causes are diverse and a doctor may not be able to pinpoint the cause straight away. Several factors are known to increase blood pressure. These include obesity, alcohol problems, high salt intake and stress. There may also be a family history of high blood pressure that you are not aware of. If you do not take much exercise or have a low calcium intake, you may find yourself with high blood pressure.

Hypertension can creep up without warning. There are usually no symptoms or signs that you have this complaint. A doctor can diagnose high blood pressure by taking a blood pressure reading. Unlike mild cases, severe high blood pressure can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting. A more severe case, called hypertensive crisis, is blood pressure that rises rapidly. If this is not treated, it can damage the brain, heart, eyes or kidneys.

Most people find out they have hypertension during a visit to their doctor. The doctor will take a reading of the systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The systolic measure indicates the pressure of the blood against the artery walls once the heart has just finished pumping. The diastolic measure records the pressure of blood against the artery walls between heartbeats. The reading is taken when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood.

A high blood pressure reading is a systolic measurement of 140 or above, which is the first reading on a blood measurement gauge. The diastolic measurement for high blood pressure, which is the second reading on the gauge, is 90 or above. A normal blood pressure reading for an adult who is 18 or over is a systolic pressure of 119 and below, with a diastolic measurement of 79 or below.

If you have hypertension, a doctor will usually suggest a change in lifestyle. He will advise on dietary plans with particular emphasis on low-fat and low-saturated-fat foods. He will also suggest moderating your alcohol, caffeine and nicotine intake. Your doctor may prescribe medications such as a thiazide-type diuretic to lower blood pressure.

Your treatment will depend on how high your blood pressure is. Whether or not you have other medical conditions will also be a factor in the treatment. Over 50 million American adults have high blood pressure, and the number of cases increase with age in both men and women. Doctors are aware that hypertension is a very common problem, so they have the necessary experience and skills to deal with this complaint.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon1004587 — On Mar 10, 2021

I am 65 years old and just started high blood pressure medicine. After 6 months still having my right arm and hand numb plus stress and some home issues. My doctor is working to help me but I feel lost.

She has me on blood pressure meds and anti depression now. This started today and I feel some what better already.

By anon47454 — On Oct 05, 2009

After 20 years on the contraceptive pill my doctor told me I was no longer allowed it due to high blood pressure (130 over 97) I am 14 pounds overweight, lack of exercise to be honest since taking a job 90 miles away from where I live (my house sale fell through and am still in the job I lined up after my move). So I put it down to stress firstly, then the change in my lifestyle since I hardly have much time to exercise - I drive for 5 hours a day and work for 9. It's bad news. I have now ordered a blood pressure monitor from Amazon (with great reviews) plus a book with proven advice on how to reduce HBP. I am now concentrating on feeding my body on healthy foods (high in potassium), no alcohol and I have purchased a cross trainer, even if i only use it 10 minutes a day it will help. This has really scared me. I have taken my health for granted as I have always been fit and healthy but this past year has proven to be terrible to my poor body. I have been experiencing a numb like pinching of my left cheek on my face and can feel the blood pumping through my heart, maybe I am being paranoid I don't know. All I know is I don't want to die. I'm only 35 and haven't even had kids yet. (I just got married!) so I should be living it up right now, but reality is quite the opposite. Thanks for reading. Lisa, London UK

By bananas — On Apr 03, 2008

In United States nearly one third of the population has hypertension, or high blood pressure. Some data suggests that now, hypertension kills more women than men. Women who take oral contraceptives have higher risk of hypertension, according to some studies.

Not all people get high blood pressure. Some are more predisposed to it then others, but it is still wise to live a healthy lifestyle and do at least those things that are in our control. There is not much we can do about our heredity.

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